Despite its legalization in many states, most Evangelical pastors in the U.S. are opposed to sports betting, viewing the practice as “morally wrong,” according to a study by Lifeway Research released ahead of the Super Bowl.
The survey, comprised of 1,004 Protestant pastors and conducted Aug. 29–Sep. 20, 2023, found that a mere 13% of pastors support the nationwide legalization of sports betting, while a substantial majority, 55%, consider the practice morally objectionable.
“Anything can happen in sports, and many Americans want the same allure of an unexpected win in sports to translate into an unexpected financial windfall,” said Scott McConnell, executive director of Lifeway Research. “Most pastors see moral hazards in sports betting and believe American society would be better off without it.”
The study found that ethical and religious arguments form the core of pastoral opposition — and Evangelical pastors (62%) are more likely than mainline pastors (50%) to see sports gambling as morally wrong. Baptist (65%) and nondenominational pastors (63%) are more likely than those at Lutheran (42%) or Presbyterian/Reformed churches (46%) to agree it is wrong.
Miles Mullin, vice president and chief-of-staff of the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, noted that gambling is not explicitly condemned in the Bible. However, he said Scripture advocates for prudent financial stewardship and warns against the broader social repercussions of sin, which gambling could exacerbate.
“While the Bible does not explicitly say, ‘thou shall not gamble,’ biblical principles regarding work and wealth indicate that gambling is unwise,” he said. “The Bible teaches that sin has a ripple effect that harms not only the participant but those around him. This seems particularly true for addictive behaviors, and gambling is no different.”
Interestingly, the study also revealed generational and racial nuances, with younger pastors and black pastors being slightly more open to the legalization of sports gambling than their older and white colleagues. Pastors in the South and Midwest were also more resistant to legalization efforts compared to those in the West.
In May 2018, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA), which had effectively banned commercial sports betting in most states.
Since then, a growing number of states have passed legislation to legalize sports betting, including Nevada, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Colorado, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia and others.
In a 2020 op-ed for The Christian Post, Pastor Mark Creech contended that gambling offers a form of worship centered around the deity of "Lady Luck," replacing trust in God with a devotion to money and covetousness, which is equated to idolatry.
Creech warned of the significant social costs of gambling, including its potential to enslave individuals both psychologically and financially, drawing resources away from more productive economic activities and fostering a culture that diminishes faith in God.
“What kind of religion takes more from its adherents than it gives? — a counterfeit religion — a devilish one — a misguided faith,” he wrote. “Don’t be deceived. Gambling serves as an evil substitute for true religion.”
In a 2022 column for CP, Dr. Richard Land, former president of the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, highlighted the negative consequences of gambling, such as addiction and its associated social problems, including divorce, alcoholism and financial distress.
Gambling, according to Land, violates biblical commandments by fostering covetousness and idolatry and undermines the role of government as ordained in the Bible, which is to promote good and punish evil, not to profit from gambling.
“The corruption wrought by gambling is insidious and spreads its corrosive tentacles into every part of society,” wrote Land, who is also the executive editor of CP and president emeritus of Southern Evangelical Seminary. “Several years ago, I became aware of a Southern Baptist Church in a Southern state that had established a statewide lottery. The chairman of the deacons had bought a lottery ticket and he won the lottery (a substantial sum). He decided to tithe on his lottery winnings to put in new stain-glassed windows in the church sanctuary.
The pastor said, ‘No, these are ill-gotten gains and the church will not accept the money. Additionally, you as a church leader need to confess your sin for having played the lottery.’ Unfortunately, the deacons voted to recommend to the church that they receive the money and the church agreed. The pastor then resigned, and the church purchased the stained-glass windows. Within six months the church had experienced a major decline from which it has never recovered, while their former pastor’s ministry has flourished in an adjoining state.
If we do not change course, we will rue the day that we made this deal with the gambling devil and turned our governments into bookies.”